Another day, another problem, another hashtag.
As a Faculty of Information and Media Studies graduate, I'm obviously an expert Facebooker. I also consider myself a cynic and a realist. So when I see another trending hashtag, another Facebook post or another profile photo overlay, I can't help but roll my eyes.
I’m not outright condemning "slacktivism" — that is, when people show their support for a political or social cause through small actions online, like signing an online petition or liking a Facebook page. Advocacy is good. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and #BellLetsTalk are examples of slacktivism that spurred real life outcomes. They’ve both stirred up conversations, prompted action and generated funds.
I do, however, draw issue with slacktivism when it fails to transfer to the real world — when it fails to amount to anything truly meaningful and solely exists to give us a virtual pat on the back for doing our part. For example, hashtags like #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls, while well-intentioned, were useless in terms of accomplishing anything. Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord, is still at large and the 276 girls abducted in Chibok, Nigeria, are still either missing or dead.
Participating in slacktivism that doesn't result in action is like a blanket of false security. We feel good about ourselves because we think we're doing something to help bring about change — and something is better than nothing.
Except it's not.
Slacktivism can create an illusion that the world will be O.K., and we as individuals are absolved of inaction. The fact that #BringBackOurGirls was trending across the internet doesn't mean we can collectively wipe our hands of the issue because of a job well done. In a similar fashion, overlaying the colours of a flag on your Facebook profile picture isn’t going to help end terrorism.
I don't disagree with using social media as a platform for advocacy. Social media is an igniter; it can spark conversation and debate on issues that need to be addressed. For issues that only need awareness and dialogue, social media is perfectly suited to nurture these discussions.
However, there needs to be an endgame. There needs to be tangible change at the end of the tunnel — especially in crisis situations. The list of social, political and economic problems runs long, and simply turning them into trending topics on the internet isn't going to solve them. If we do decide to show our support online, let's make every effort to follow up with action — whether that's donating your time or your money to a cause.
It's time to stop slacking.